Thursday, July 3, 2014

One Sane Year

Tomorrow, it'll be one year since I decided I'd had enough of over-drinking.* It feels like yesterday.

I suppose in Internet terms, it's been a year of not-quitting. Or maybe failure. I'm not sure how others keep tally of resolutions dealing with moderation. Is it a constant stream of minor failures or a trickle of almost successes?

We live in a culture of absolutes. Go big or go home, as they probably say on a bumper sticker somewhere, most likely on the back of a big truck in some dustier state more full of corn than Michigan.

Either you give things up, period, full stop, or you don't even bother. Either people have a big house or no house at all. Eat all the food or go on a binge diet using some faddy approach you saw on The View or page 16 of a muscle magazine.

America is profoundly uncomfortable with the concept of moderation, so sometimes I have a hard time explaining—really getting across—where I'm coming from. We're trained to see things as black and white. The concept of "do what you were doing before except maybe 50% of it but forever instead of for a few weeks" is somewhat alien to our mindset.

My problem was never THAT I was drinking, it was HOW I was drinking. It was more approach and degree of extremity rather than whether I fell into category A or category B.

I truly enjoy beer and I like getting buzzed occasionally. The problem was, "occasionally" turned into "frequently" and "buzzed" turned into "blackout drunk" more often than I'd like to admit.

It also doesn't help that my social group, at least for a while, was famously inebriated most of the time. There were very few moderating voices to be heard. Most outsiders would proceed along a fairly predictable trajectory when introduced to us, going from mildly amused, to impressed, to kind of horrified that we drank as much as we did.

Hanging out with my people was a Boston Marathon for your liver. Parties would occasionally be measured in days, as work schedules allowed. If you were around, you were constantly bombarded by calls for shots, beer runs and drinking until you saw the sun set twice in a row.

Combine that with my inherent lack of impulse control and you're not going any place good. When I buy a bag of chips, for example, I tend to finish it, no matter how ambitious said bag's size is compared to my appetite. If I have a great video game I tend to go until exhaustion, if it's compelling enough. If I have a great book, I'll read until I can't read anymore then wake up and continue reading. You get the idea.

I am to binge behavior what Genghis Khan was to kicking ass across vast swaths of Eurasia. It's awful and more than a little embarrassing for a grown adult. Adults are, by definition, supposed to be able to say "enough." To be like the five year old who empties the bag of M&M's and makes himself sick is somewhat humiliating, particularly if you have to explain to a bunch of people that you can't do anything today because of a dreadful hangover. You're supposed to, as a grown-up, know better.

One of the ways I've learned to get around it is to simply ask myself when I'm buying something what I'll FEEL like if I finish off the whole damn thing in one sitting. An entire bag of chips, an entire six-pack of beer. That's usually enough to stop me from buying whatever it is or looking for an option which comes in a smaller package.

The last year has been nothing but learning and relearning habits. Identifying triggers, when I can get away with having a beer or two, when I should pass. It helps that the less I drink, the less I really want to. It also helps that I've become much more of a light-weight. If I drink more than three beers in an evening, I WILL have a hangover, full-stop. I know that and since I hate hangovers down to the very core of my being, it will usually lay a spike strip across any drinking plans I may or may not have.

It was difficult, over the year, to drive home to my friends that I couldn't really allow myself to drink that much any more. I couldn't even tell them I was an alcoholic or anything like that, because I wasn't. I simply felt the constant level of drunk was unhealthy. Physically, emotionally and in a more general lifestyle sense of the word: drinking too much causes a ton of fallout across the rest of your life. Poorly timed hangovers. Risk of drunk-driving. Bad decisions in general. A general feeling of malaise as your body tries to tell you that maybe you're overdoing it.

But after a while, they got it. And I think our level of drinking has also fallen. I don't think it was all due to me, but more of a zeitgeist thing. People started getting more DUI's. A few of us spun off and burnt out into full-blown drinking-Listerine-in-your-aunt's-bathroom terminal alcoholism and subsequently dropped out of the group. Others had kids, moved on. The more of us pulled back on the drinking, the more we realized we could have just as much fun without the sauce. Or at least with a more healthy amount of it.

Two, three beers a week. That's fine. I enjoy good beer far too much to ever stop, but I don't enjoy being drunk or all the other things it entails.

It makes for a lousy resolution, though. American culture thrives on overcoming massive obstacles. You climbed that mountain. You lived a year in a shack in the woods, subsisting solely on grizzly bear shit and sunshine. You lost two hundred pounds. Whatever.

Resolutions of moderation, keeping a lid on bad habits without actually getting rid of said bad habits, are weak sauce. I occasionally find myself at parties, sipping a beer and telling someone that I've given up most of my drinking and they kind of blink at me, confused. I'm drinking now—aren't all drinking-related resolutions supposed to be full-stop-I'm-going-dry-from-now-on-hail-Jesus-praise-the-lord types of things? That's okay, though. My life is a series of corrections and this is just the latest.

One year feels pretty good. The only real problem is that my bottom happened on Fourth of July, which means that I'll probably never be able to drink on the Fourth again, simply out of self-respect and that kind of sucks because it's the perfect summer holiday for a beer or two.

Such is life.

* Technically, I resolved to quit on the fifth, the day after I bottomed out. But the fourth is too good a day to pin my resolution on. Independence Day vs...whatever the fifth is. Poplifugia, according to Wikipedia.

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